Appreciating her hopes of becoming a journalist, Maria Garcia’s father would greet her every day after school by saying, “Okay, report your news.”
Maria always had a lot of news. Because there wasn’t much to do in her tiny, rural Texas town, and because her dad ruled that she couldn’t leave the house unless she was doing something school-related, she joined every club she could. She would report on all her activities: journalism, Key Club, cheerleading.
These days, Maria makes the news. Elected in November, she is the third woman and the first in 34 years to serve on the Paso Robles City Council — she is also the first Hispanic in 20 years to run for the seat.
A pharmacy technician for 25 years and a Mary Kay consultant, Maria came to the North County 12 years ago with her young son. She made friends with women in her church and with Mary Kay colleagues and soon realized that Hispanic business owners and entrepreneurs needed help establishing and growing their businesses. While Business Networking International was active in the area, many Hispanics were hesitant to join because of the $300 membership fee and the fact that few in the organization spoke Spanish. So, eight years ago, Maria and four other Hispanic professional women founded the Hispanic Business Association.
A dynamo who carries both flats and heels to make it through each event-filled day, Maria brings a new face and new voice to the Council. She is passionate about building economic and business development for all, public safety, affordable housing, equitable representation and raising the profile of the Hispanic community.
She sat down with us over breakfast to answer a few questions.
Your dad was paralyzed in a car accident, but he seems to have been a huge influence. Tell me about him.
He and I were great partners. Even though he (nor my mom) graduated from high school — I was the first high school graduate in my family — he loved to read and discuss books with me. My mom had two jobs, but he was always there for me, at home, teaching me to cook, pay bills, do the shopping, be in charge of family chores, even before I was 10. When President Reagan passed the amnesty law in 1986 that allowed undocumented immigrants to become citizens, my dad and I studied civics together. He was so proud to become a U.S. citizen. He gave me my tough skin!
How has the Hispanic Business Association helped grow businesses?
Well, I go from business to business talking to people. A bar owner down the street said he wouldn’t join a group like HBA because he thought that he shouldn’t help his competitors. But I convinced him that networking and partnering with other businesses was better for all.
Another friend was a bartender but dreamed of starting his own carpet cleaning business. Well, I got him to take some business classes at Cuesta, and he started his company. But he had no flyers, no business cards, no website, and he wore old jeans and a T-shirt. I said, look, here’s how you get promotional materials, how you can get a website for $20 — and get a polo shirt and some khakis! HBA’s goal is to direct members of our community to success, and we’re not afraid to give no-nonsense advice.
I understand that volunteers wearing HBA T-shirts can be seen at events all over town.
Yes, we ask our members to sign a service contract! HBA gives them something, so we think they should give back to the community. That’s how you build bridges and networks to serve Paso Robles. Volunteering also makes the Hispanic community visible. It shows our work ethic and family orientation. By becoming more involved in the community at large, by giving back, we create a common language and familiarity that breaks down barriers.
Give me a couple tales from the campaign trail.
When a seat opened on the council, so many HBA members encouraged me to run. I walked the whole town, starting in July. Two interactions really moved me. A Spanish-speaking grandmother told me that after the presidential election, she was afraid to leave her house because she is undocumented and afraid to take the citizenship test. But seeing me run for office made her so proud! She was just overwhelmed to meet me. She almost made me cry. That moment kept me going.
Another time, I happened to be shopping at Boot Barn, and a city worker recognized me and came up to tell me that he had never before registered to vote. At a family gathering, in fact, he counted only one out of 30 family members who were registered. But because of my campaign, he not only registered himself, but he registered every single member of his family and he got them all to vote. For me!
What’s it like serving on the Paso Robles City Council?
I know I’m an overachiever, so I tell myself every day to slow down. The council members I serve with have so much experience to draw from; I have a lot I can learn from them. So, right now, I’m listening and learning as much as I can. I realize that I am opening the door to service and leadership for the next person like me.
You’re a busy woman! Name a goal you strive for each day.
My dad always said, “Be proud of what you do this day.” So, I ask myself how am I going to change someone’s life today. When one of my pharmacy customers says thank you, I say to myself, “Okay, Dad, there it is!”